Keith had never expected that such a small force of Galra could almost cost them the Castle of Lions. Sendak had been far more ruthless, brutal and… unsentimental about losses than he’d ever seen any soldier be. Lance had almost died and Zarkon had come way too close to getting his hands on Voltron. Just the thought made him shudder.
After the day they’d had Keith wanted nothing more than to lie down and… think. He wasn’t the only one. Hunk was looking woozy and Lance was still spaced out from his dip in the healing tanks. Even Shiro and Allura couldn’t hide how much they needed a nap. Only Coran was looking fresh. What was his secret?
But apparently his day wasn’t complete without one last bombshell. Pidge stepped before the team looking unusually nervous.
“I can’t man up. I’m… a girl.”
Keith blinked and stared at Pidge. Was he supposed to know that? Why didn’t anyone ever tell him these things?! What was he supposed to say?! Nothing in his life had prepared him for this moment. He looked at the others for advice, but Hunk looked as confused as him. The commotion snapped Lance out of his trance, and he looked around wildly.
“What?! What?! Who’s a girl? Is it Keith?”
Hunk elbowed Lance while Shiro rolled his eyes like a patient but overworked father.
“We’ve always known.” Shiro said.
“Er… yes. Always.” Keith lied.
“We had?” Lance said.
“Everyone besides Lance.” Allura said.
Lance flashed them a mischievous grin.
“Is it my fault that no one ever tells me these things?”
Pidge looked relieved. Like a terrible weight had been lifted from his… Her! From her shoulders. Keith envied that. Being honest with others. Trusting them to be there for you even after the truth was revealed. What would happen if he revealed his own secrets? Would they still welcome him with open arms?
Shiro ordered them to get rest and no one had any complaints. While Pidge was walking towards her room, Keith called after her. Pidge turned to look at him surprised.
“What is it?”
“I just wanted to say that you’re… doing the right thing. Staying with Voltron and not going after your family.”
First Pidge looked taken aback and then insulted. When he saw the anger on her face, Keith realized how that had sounded.
“I mean… we are your best chance to find your family. Voltron is the most powerful weapon in the universe, right? We’ll be able to gather intel on all the people Galra have taken prisoners with it and when we know where they are… well, rescuing them will be easy with Voltron.”
The anger on Pidge’s face was replaced with surprise. Then she smiled.
“You’re right, Keith. You’re right. Thank you.”
Keith tried to figure out what he was supposed to do next and offered his hand for a shake. That’s what Shiro would have done. Right?
Pidge ignored his hand and went straight for a hug. Keith stood awkwardly in her embrace.
“Sorry if I’ve been difficult.” Pidge said after letting him go: “You know… I used to think you were kind of a dick. I’m glad I was wrong.”
“You thought I was a dick?”
“You make an excellent impression of one.” Pidge said.
After saying goodnight Pidge went to her room and Keith dragged himself to his. When he was inside, he made sure Allura’s mice hadn’t found their way in and then checked that the door was locked. When the room was secure, he took out the only memento he had of his mother. A knife. The kind he had never seen before. Nor had any of the experts he’d showed it to. No one had seen anything like it.
Before facing the Galra.
The shape was a bit different, but the carvings left no room for doubt that it was a Galra blade. A gift from his mother to his father, who’s then passed it on to him… before passing on himself. Which meant… which would mean…
Keith shuddered at the thought.
Sendak had been a cruel and brutal commander but the worst part was that he’d still behaved himself like a professional soldier instead of a maddened war criminal. Like being unnecessarily cruel and vile had been part of his training. None of his soldiers had complained when their commander had spent their lives. Victory or death. Nothing else mattered. You either won or died trying.
His father had accepted a weapon from such an army.
It did make sense. The Galra Empire believed that the universe’s rightful place was under Zarkon’s boot. Why wouldn’t they send scouts to Earth for an eventual invasion? The blade proved that. And his father had met one of those scouts… and impressed such a brutal culture for one of their own to gift him with a weapon… and a son.
Had his father been a traitor to the human race? Had he been helping the Galra prepare for an invasion? Where… humans even his people?
Keith had always been faster than the other children. Stronger too. When it came to reflexes, he’d yet to meet his match. Only Shiro could best him and he was a soldier in his prime with over a decade of experience and Keith was already gaining on him. He’d blasted his way through all the pilot tests the Garrison had thrown at him and Shiro had declared him a prodigy.
Shiro… his brother… or father. What would Shiro think if he knew who Keith really was? What he really was? A member of the race that had enslaved him. Taken his arm. What would Allura think? Or Coran? Galra had destroyed their planet and culture and… the Altean race. Two people couldn’t rebuild an empire. Altea would die with them.
Keith hid the blade. He needed to train. It would help him clear his mind. He jogged to the training room and picked up a practice sword. After setting the sparring bots to the highest difficulty he trained until he was ready to drop. Then he trained some more. His muscles were burning and he was half-blinded by sweat but he pushed himself through the pain to that blessed place without thought.
“Would you look at that? Now there’s a butt that just won’t quit.”
Keith flinched and then cursed himself. He’d been so absorbed in his training that he hadn’t noticed someone sneak inside. Lance was standing at the door to the training room in his swimming trunk with a towel thrown on his shoulder. His hair was still wet from a dip in the pool.
“Training keeps me sharp. You should try it.” Keith said.
“Woo. Hostile. For your information, I’ll be taking Blue for a flight after I’ve dried up. Some of us have to practice flying to be awesome at it.” Lance said and looked at him: “That looks more like self-torture then anything.”
“You do that.” Keith said sullenly: “We can’t have you slowing us down.”
“This coming from the guy who almost skewered Klaizap. I’m no politician but I’m sure that’s something of a gaff.”
“He was Arusia’s bravest warrior!”
“And how lucky we were to have you protecting us from such a fierce killer.” Lance said and then looked around: “Can I ask you something?”
“Did you really know that Pidge was a lady?”
“… of course.” Keith said.
Lance had the most infuriating grin he’d ever seen.
“So, you didn’t. You’re not as hard to read as you think.”
“What made you such a social expert?”
“Growing up with way too many siblings. You learn to recognize these things. Like if someone has something bothering them.” Lance said and then just looked at him.
Keith looked away first.
“Nothing’s bothering me.”
“Once again, you’re not so hard to read. Unlike Pidge. Seriously. That’s how you keep a secret.” Lance said and his grin mellowed into something… thoughtful: “If you want to talk about, I can listen. We wouldn’t want you to slow the team down with emotional baggage.”
Keith was about to tell Lance to mind his own business and bugger off when what Pidge had said came back to him.
I used to think you were kind of a dick. You make an excellent impression of one.
A dick, huh? He’d never meant to act like one. He’d just wanted people to leave him alone and let him figure things out for himself. He looked at Lance. He’d always thought Lance was an idiot and a braggart who’d fold over the moment the going got tough. He’d been wrong on two accounts. There was a kind of… low cunning to him and he’d taken a blow for Coran without hesitation. He was still a braggart though… and now he was offering to help him. Shiro had always told him to try being more sociable.
“Talk to me. Even if it’s something embarrassing no one would believe me.” Lance said.
Keith drew a deep breath and… took a leap of faith.
“Pidge had me thinking… he… She! She’s trying to find her family and that… got me thinking about my father.”
“You must be worried about him.” Lance said.
Lance’s eyes widened.
“I… I’m sorry. That must have been awful for you. How did he… you know?”
“He was a firefighter. There was a fire and… you know.”
They stood in heavy silence. Lance was the first one to break it.
“And your mother?”
“I’ve never met her, but I just found out that she might have been… a criminal.”
Keith gripped the sword’s handle harder.
“My dad never told me and… what if he was a criminal too? It feels like everything I knew about him… about myself… was a lie.”
A lie. The one person he should have been able to trust had lied to him all his life. He wanted to be angry… he was angry but… it was too much. It was too big to process and just left him numb.
“What was your dad like?” Lance asked.
“Rarely at home but… I was always happy when he was.”
“Well, he was a firefighter. Keith… I don’t think you can ever really know someone. Even your parents. So… it’s unfair to jump into conclusions and assume the worst when you don’t know the full story.” Lance said before laughing nervously: “That’ what my mom said anyway.”
“She sounds nice.” Keith said quietly.
“Because she is most of the time. Feeling better?”
“… I don’t know.”
“If you want to talk more…”
“I think I want to sleep now.” Keith said.
“You do that. Wouldn’t want to ruin that cute face of yours by staying up too late.”
When Lance turned to leave and Keith saw his back, he shuddered. Lance’s skin was a mixture of brown and pink… except for his back. The healing tanks had saved his life after the explosion, but it couldn’t erase the scars. White wings woven form scar tissue were sprouting from Lance’s back.
Lance stopped and glanced at him over his shoulder.
“You know… I hate to be a dick about this but… Pidge pretending to be a boy wasn’t exactly the hardest disguise to pull off.”
Keith snorted. He couldn’t help it.
“Look at that. You can laugh. You might be human after all.” Lance said.
“I don’t know what for but yay. Compliments.”